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Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

*Summerhouse Time* by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff- young readers book review
Also by Eileen Spinelli:

Today I Will: A Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promises to Myself

Princess Pig

Heat Wave
Summerhouse Time
by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
Ages 9-12 224 pages Knopf May 2007 Hardcover    

When you hear the name Spinelli in relation to children’s literature, it instantly grabs your attention. Eileen Spinelli, author of the delightful Summerhouse Time, is the wife of the award-winning author Jerry Spinelli of Maniac McGee fame. Great writing technique must be abundant in the Spinelli home, as Eileen Spinelli gives us a book that is a delight for children just learning to read chapter books. The style of writing in an almost diary-like format gives young readers much confidence, as well as fun, as they can read through the “chapters” quickly.

Sophie, like most 11-year-olds, can’t wait for summer vacation. She’s anxious for her family to go on their yearly trip to the Jersey shore and spend the warm, fun summer days in the rented pink cottage with some of their other family members, including her older cousin Colleen. Sophie adores Colleen, whom she looks up to and likes to emulate. The trip, as Sophie puts it, is “better than Christmas.”

With Sophie’s best friend, Katie Johnson, gone to spend the summer with her dad, Sophie is even more eager for August to come so she and her family can leave for New Jersey. One wrinkle in Sophie’s waiting for the best part of the year is the new boy on the block with the wonderful laugh and the beagle puppy named Dakota. Sophie arranges to “accidentally” meet this boy when he helps her climb down from a tree she is up, supposedly looking for her cat, Orange.

Sophie is quite interested in Jimmy Gabbiano, to say the least. Sophie goes so far as to try and learn Italian because she decides it would impress him. As summer moves on and a friendship grows between Sophie and Jimmy (a friendship that she imagines might become more as she daydreams about him wanting to kiss her), Sophie realizes she will miss Jimmy and can’t wait to introduce him to Katie when they all are back home before school starts. Sophie talks Jimmy into writing letters to keep in touch while she is gone. She doesn’t think he is that keen about it, but when her mom hands her a package left on the porch the afternoon before they leave, Sophie changes her mind. Jimmy has left her a silver necklace with a tiny silver spider on it. He has a great interest in spiders, so this is symbolic to Sophie, and the note attached wishes her a great time on her holiday.

When Sophie and her family arrive at the pink house on the New Jersey shore, she runs to greet her idol, cousin Colleen, who is a bit standoffish. Colleen even says she is getting her own room this summer. When Sophie questions her aunt about why Colleen is mad, she is told that Colleen is “mad at the world”. Sophie begrudgingly rooms with Tammy, her 5-year-old cousin who calls her “Soapy”. Sophie doesn’t realize that to Tammy, she is the idol, just as Colleen is, or was, to Sophie.

The rest of August is spent filled with everything from scary stories around the fire to worrying about Sophie’s dad and his health. But most of all, the summerhouse time is different this year - very different. Letters written to Jimmy that seem like they will never be answered and the sudden disappearance of her beloved cat threaten to break poor Sophie’s heart.

Can Sophie really teach Tammy to swim - and if so, why should she? Does Sophie begin to realize that Tammy looks up to her, like Sophie used to look up to Colleen? Does the “secret” of the “bad thing” Colleen has done tear them apart or help to bring them closer?

How the summer vacation winds down and how these questions and more are answered make for a delightful fun and easy read. Summerhouse Time is a great book for beginning chapter readers. Characters are real, and the situations are ones that children can learn from and enjoy at the same time. Overall, the fact that Sophie comes to realize that this vacation is all about family and how important they are to her is the glue that holds this story together.
Young readers book reviews for ages 8 to 12 years old

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  Karen D. Haney/2008 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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